The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is marvellous. I haven’t read any Marquez for a bit, and I’d forgotten just how good he is. It describes the decline and death of the dictator of an invented Caribbean country, with each chapter as one long, run-on sentence. It’s beautifully written, dark and absurd and I guess you would call it surreal, although if you’ve ever read much about the courts of real dictators, the incidents start seeming less far-fetched.

For example, at one point he discovers that all the modern buildings he’s seen from his presidential limo are just facades, put up to fool him into thinking that progress is being made. Well, when Mao was travelling through an area, people used to plant the rice paddies near the train tracks at super-high densities so it would look like his great plans for improving rice production were working. The rice duly died, of course.

The whole atmosphere of the court—paranoid, corrupt, hedonistic, violent, capricious, self-deceptive—and the relationship between the dictator and those trying to anticipate his wishes seems convincing to me. It would be a pity if the surreal touches led people to think the book is unrecognisably exaggerated from reality.

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